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Culinary Students Fed Up with Tuition Costs


Many chefs pursue a culinary career for the art of it, not because they think they’ll get rich working in a kitchen. (Well, unless you go into the field with the lofty goal of becoming a celebrity chef.) Starting salaries are miserably low and the hours are late and long. So why do chef schools charge a fortune for their typically 18-month programs?

Fair enough question, right? A third of undergraduate students at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) staged a walk-out protest last week to challenge the academic powers-that-be to really consider the present cost of vocational education. Students wore name tags scribbled with the depressing tally of debt they owe. One student who spoke to the New York Times owed $87,500. Remember, that’s for a less-than-four-year program. Worth it?

The CIA provost condescendingly told reporters he considered the protest “childish.” Maybe he forgot what it’s like to scrape by as a student, to face a tsunami of debt so early in life and worry about whether the economy’s favorable enough to even offer up a job on the other side of all this academic preparation. Whatever. It’s unlikely he’s making any allies among his undergrad constituents.

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(Photo courtesy of CIA/Facebook)

Perhaps you could justify the exponentially rising cost of tuition by upping academic standards and promising a higher job placement rate post-graduation. Then, fine, folks may have got what they paid for. The provost insists that that is the case.

But that doesn’t appear to be true, culinary students point out. 

“This is not the first time the spirit of revolution has seized the students at the CIA,” the article reads. “Back in 2008, students demonstrated against CIA president Tim Ryan, complaining that the school’s relationship with corporate food led to students learning institutionalized food preparations and lowered academic standards overall.”

Well, then, how about that, Mr. Let-Them-Eat-Cake Provost?

PayScale analysts reported data that supports student suspicions over the less-than-desirable return on investment for a CIA education. The academy ranked 1002nd on our 2012 College ROI Report, very close to last. The cost to complete the program in 2011 clocked in at $163,000. That’s more than a lot of prestigious colleges. The ROI was only 3.2 percent. Even with 85 percent of tuition covered through financial aid, yearly ROI comes in at less than 4 percent. 

Looking 30 years out, the ROI in actual dollars is –$26,600. Read: negative $26,600. Not to scare anyone away from the culinary industry–it’s paved with plenty of exciting career paths–but not a great financial outlook. Nationally, the median salary for an executive chef was $62,985 by our last count just this month. Median pay for pastry chefs: $35,000. Restaurant managers: $44,175. Sous chefs: $40,518.

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Jennifer Wadsworth
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Valso Basano
Valso Basano

I am a graduate of the CIA, many decades ago before it acquired all this popularity. The cost, today, is well over the line for this type of education and the cost to provide this training. This “non-profit” school is actually a profit center to support the high salaries and benefits of the administration. All this money is funnel into their pockets by a conspiracy of bank loans paid by students and subsidized government programs paid by all of us. This is the educational fraud that… Read more »

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